Every time I hear about peers wanting to go into community management, I ask them about it; it might be the people I hang out with, but most of them go into it because they want to go into the games industry but cannot program (or do not have time to learn). Yes, becoming a CM in the games industry can be fun and rewarding – it is an industry I am interested in myself – but that is not the only industry that would benefit from community managers.
When you think about it, CM skills are needed in industries ranging from education to nonprofit organizations to political party chapters. Any industry that relies on engaging with customers can profit from a person with these skills. They may not necessarily use the “community manager” title per se, but the skills those industries are looking for are the same.
What are the differences? What are the similarities?
First, let us consider certain key concepts a community or public relations team in the entertainment (games, in this case) industry might face.
The product (or service, or special need) needs to be differentiated from others.
There are a lot of games in this world. For that matter, there are a lot of other things – charities often cooperate, but they need to make their core values and actions just as clear as a game company needs to be clear about why this new title is different from other titles in its genre or that happen to be released in the same quarter. Why get your audience excited about this one? Why get them excited about your company? How can you get the community to recognize that filling this need is important? Recognizing key points about a given product, service, or need is a key skill of a community manager.
People want to be heard.
In games, massive multiplayer role playing games especially, some players lead others and are very vocal entities in the player community. This can be good. This can be bad, too, as anyone who has had to deal with the phenomenon of trolling can point out. But the fact remains, people want to be heard. Publishing companies sometimes have forums now, where writers and readers can talk with one another. Some companies use contact forms, encouraging customers to ask questions or send in suggestions. No longer can a company just put up a suggestion box in a storefront. Find out where people are talking, and listen. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr (among others) are essential for engaging your audience and showing that you are listening to them. Even if you cannot address every single one of their needs and desires, the simple act of acknowledgment is a powerful one. Certainly you do not need to feed the trolls, but you do need to deal with them gracefully and decisively when they do appear. This ability to acknowledge and listen to a customer is a vital ‘soft’ skill; in terms of technical skills, savviness with social media and forum (or wiki) moderation are possibly the greatest technical skills a community manager can know.
You will be working with multiple departments.
In a small business or firm it is not so obvious as everyone wears many hats. That being said, in a larger company or organization, community manager types work with people with many different specialties. If there is a community management or coordination team, you will be working closely with the (or a relevant) marketing department and the IT department. For example, for a game release, community managers might work with product marketing in addition to the persons in charge of the particular title’s website. If you are a community manager and happen to be with marketing, you will be working with IT – in some organizations, education for example, those with community manager roles are sometimes assigned to IT. It really depends on the particular structure of the organization. However, you will be working with multiple people with particular skills and backgrounds. Just as you would listen to customers, and keep their needs and desires in mind, you need to pay attention and work with those whose domains affect your own. Ask how you can help them. Listen to their advice. Make certain you do not blindly accept or dismiss any of it.
Develop your voice.
So far these skills have been about the company or about how you communicate with others within and without. But another key skill for a community manager type, especially those in email or social media, is to develop a voice.
Anyone can learn the mechanics of writing – there are plenty of books, guides, and websites on all forms of writing. However, many of us can tell that the works of Terry Pratchett are different from the works of Raymond Chandler, even though they both are (were) esteemed fiction authors and ostensibly know (knew?) something about keeping readers interested. If you are responding to customer emails or starting conversations on Twitter, read up on developing a voice. Determine how much individuality your industry needs for you to portray (which can vary by company, so do check with the relevant people first) and see what tone would serve your customers and your company best. This takes time, but developing ways you can contribute to the brand – even if it is your own brand – is a useful skill, and one of the more fulfilling ones too.
These are not all the skills a community manager needs, by any means. Can you think of others that apply across industries? Are you a community manager (whatever your title) that works for an unexpected industry? Or do you just want to chime in with a comment? Let us know!
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Richym59 - You pretty much nailed it when you talk about passion. We've had Community Managers in the games industry since at least 1997. Whilst it is a "new" career for so many people (the new "hotness"), we've been doing it a lot longer and we have a lot to share with our peers in other industries. There is a *ton* of competition in our industry and it's very hard for people to break into right now. You're best bet is to get a moderator gig, start writing with video game media sites, attending consumer events & industry events. Be a volunteer wherever you can.Many of us have been hired right out of our favorite games or have come from game media. I'll use Rubi Bayer as an example. She was just recently the Community Manager at Massively. She just landed a Community gig at ArenaNet, who are publishing Guild Wars 2.There is a whole career path for video game CM; you most likely won't land one of the gigs without starting at the bottom. Get your chops doing that, be awesome and engaged. Also realize that whilst video games are hot and cool, our industry is just as prone to lay offs and more just like other industries. it also pays a lot less than non-gaming industry CM gigs. :)
This is really interesting, I was thinking about the same things the other day when considering how cramped the job market it and how popular a job it is in the video games industry. I guess it's something that is a lot more exposed compared to many other places.The one thing that gets me though for being a CM is, in my opinion anyway, being very invested in the subject. I think you need to have as much passion for the subject as you do the job, and I think that's where a lot of CMs in the game industry get their jobs. There are probably is hundreds of CMs in various companies and in various industries all over the world but they don't give themselves the title.The title of CM seems to be a very recent 'must have' title yet it has always existed. It's very interesting and I am considering trying to apply for jobs outwith the video games industry to try and get experience which I can hopefully use to furtehr mmy career.
@_Danicia_ Thanks for taking the time to respond. I'm sure Jasmine jpkit will appreciate your advice. I think 'being a volunteer' is a good point you've made when looking at other skills or background CM's share across all industries. In some form or another, volunteering can mean many things... like guest blogging. Continue to blog on video game media sites and attend industry events as a good start, but it's also important to not restrict yourself- but rather keep your options open. Often time that's what leads you to another great opportunity.
@Richym59 Sometimes, as I mention here, CMs have different titles. Universities are hiring community managers now but there are a variety for titles for those people - sometimes they're under marketing, sometimes IT, and that determines their title. Nonprofits are interested in folks with CM skills too, especially as they tend to deal with grassroots organizing and local community involvement to a greater ratio: and of course, international companies need to get their word out there, too. There are CMs in a lot of places, so don't lose hope - you'll find something that will work for you!
@meganlarsen4 @_Danicia_Yep! Since it was a discussion strictly about the video game industry, it seems good to list pros/cons and advice for those interested in it. Also, being a volunter =/= guest blogging. At least, in our industry. There are heaps of people blogging about games who will never ever get into a Community role. If you're passionate about games, get involved WITH game.You're better off as a writer, moderator of staff of actual video game media/press. One of the things which many who are trying to break into the industry have found...no matter your experience, if you don't have game industry experience, you won't get a gig as a CM. Especially in the coveted MMORPG space.In our industry, when we talk about "volunteers", you're talking volunteer mod roles, volunteer in-game event roles, and conference experiences such as this: http://www.gdconf.com/attend/volunteer.htmlHope this helps!
@_Danicia_ @meganlarsen4 The video game industry is rather tough to get into, I've found. Some companies, and persons within them (like you, Danicia!) are willing to offer advice, though. As for me, my interests in the gaming industry are varied (CM/community mod positions, localization positions, marketing) and even though it's been hard, I've not given up. Luckily, I do have other positions to fall back on due to my varied interests, and a contact or two in actual video game media, so here's hoping that avenue pans out.The industries I've seen a lot lately are the video game industries and the iOS application industry - sometimes these industries are even related XD But it might be that because they're so visible, and the CMs are visible and 'out there' in community spaces too, a lot of people wish to join up with them.
@_Danicia_ I certainly appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us! There are still many I don't know about gaming CM's, but your responses are helping, so please continue to enlighten :) It seems as though you've a lot to share that maybe us non-gaming CM's don't know. Let me know if you'd be open to discussing a topic for a guest post on our blog. Thanks again Donna.